Ever heard of the ancient Native American ritual of Temazcal? Neither had I. While planning for my yoga retreat at Maya Tulum (which was AWESOME) I ran across a description of it amongst the spa offerings. It billed itself as total release of physical, emotional, and spiritual toxins. Hmmmm. I could use a good inner cleanse, I thought. And that is exactly what I got, and more.
It basically works like this. They stoke up a great big fire and heat large lava rocks until they glow with heat. They carry those giant embers into the steam lodge (pictured above) and drop them into a fireplace in the middle. The door then shuts so it is completely dark inside; you cannot see your hand in front of your face dark. Then the ceremony leader, a young Aztec man in our case, pours water and special herbs and salts and things over the rocks to create steam. It gets hot as hell. Like, really, really hot. They do four rounds of this, with a little reprieve between each one where the door opens and they bring in more burning hot rocks to make it even hotter. Each round is a different meditation. In total, you are in the sweat lodge for about an hour.
I took this super seriously. I'm not a mystic or anything but I do believe strongly in mind over matter. I know that we humans have the capability to bring into existence that which we imagine and focus on. We can manifest what we desire, particularly when it comes to matters of our hearts and minds.
I had very clear goals in mind with this experience and I prepared myself with careful consideration of what I wanted to take away. I wanted to get rid of very specific negative energy that had been bouncing around me since my dad's diagnosis and find a sense of calm. I wanted to bring that sense of calm into my entire life, not just in regard to my dad's death.
I wanted to see clearly the path before me so that I could move forward, not away from the pain, because I accept that is now just a part of who I am, but towards life, my life, without him. I wanted to feel complete again, even with the hole left by the loss.
I wanted to approach those I care for the most with more understanding of their perspective. I wanted to seek compassion in my interactions so that I could treat them the way they deserve.
Calm. Clarity. Complete. Compassionate. Those were my meditation points.
The first round was eye opening. I remember thinking it wasn't all that bad. Totally manageable. Not much more sweat than hot yoga. But then it got hotter. And hotter. And hotter. And just when I thought I couldn't stand it, the door opened and I felt a flood of relief. Phew.
The second round was more intense. The steam was so hot I wondered if it was actually burning my lungs with each inhale. My legs were completely numb from sitting in lotus but I was afraid to move and bump into one of the others. My hair was dripping wet with sweat and the tiniest shifts around the room resulted in that sloshy wet sound of a not yet rung out mop. But again, I maintained my focus and made it to the much needed door opening. The word calm was conjured up many, many times to get through it.
On the third round, shit got weird. I felt very calm. I didn't feel like I was really there. Not really that. More like I was there physically but most definitely somewhere else mentally. I had a couple of very clear and distinct visions, so clear that even as I began to doubt they were happening, they couldn't be ignored in their clarity. I completely surrendered to the moment in a way I have seldom achieved elsewhere and wow, that was some wacky and totally worthwhile inner self work. When the door opened this time, it was different. Because I was.
On the last round, shit hit the fan. It was so incredibly hot that I felt it necessary to press my face down to the floor in a vain attempt to find any trace amount of cool air. My mind was racing in every frantic direction. Utter panic. Certain this was definitely not a livable situation for a mere mortal human. I cannot breathe. This is insane. When will that fucking door open for the love of all things holy?! I had to suppress the urge to leap over the rocks and push my way out. It took every ounce of my inner strength to bring myself back from the brink and keep my shit together until the door, thankfully, opened and flooded us with pure, sweet, ocean air.
The following moments were ecstasy. A cool shower under the now starlit sky. Waves crashing nearby on the beach. Our guide standing buck naked in front of us, all his manly bits air drying in the breeze like it ain't no thing. (Worth a mention here that he encouraged us all to shed our clothes for the ceremony. We politely declined, but this dude was clearly comfortable in his skin.)
And truly, it wasn't a thing. In that moment, we were high on life and felt bonded to each other. It really didn't bother me that he let his cock swing in the wind for all to see. I have laughed about several times since, but honestly, this experience transcended all boundaries I'd ever known, including clothing.
I spent the next several hours floating. I was naturally high. I'm certain my pupils were dilated. I was smiling inside and out. I felt calm. Sure. Refreshed. Energized. It was like a shower for my soul.
If you ever get the chance, do it. You are stronger than you seem. You are braver than you know.